The aim of this article is to explore the protection that international human rights law offers to refugees, asylum-seekers, and the forcibly displaced. The ambition of the global rights framework is to guarantee a defined range of rights to all human beings, and thus move the basis for normative entitlement from exclusive reliance on national membership to a common humanity. This comprehensive and international perspective remains formally tied to States – acting individually or collectively – in terms of creation and implementation. The norms must find an entry point into the empirical world, and there must be clarity on responsibilities for practical delivery. It should remain unsurprising that the expectations raised by the normative reach of the law are frequently dashed in the complex and difficult human world of instrumental politics, power, and conflict. The intention here is to outline the international human rights law context, and indicate the value and limitations for the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers. A question is then raised about possible reform.

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